I wish we were better.

I've read approximately a million stories this week on Chester Bennington's death and the impact he had on people who were/are struggling with mental health and/or traumatic pasts. Each one made me cry.

Like so many others, his death hit me hard - much harder than I would have expected. And it wasn't because I knew him - I had met him once, but did not know him. But for some reason, I was and am absolutely grief stricken about his death.

I'm a pretty sensitive person - I cry about everything and I feel things intensely. But this is different.

I'm gutted.

You know that cliche about being "raised by rock and roll?"

That's me. In 1999, I was fresh off of a failed marriage (I am a failure). I had serious childhood trauma (even your family hates you), so no family that I spoke to. I had no education (you're stupid) and no skills (worthless), so I was a stripper (slut). I was worthless. I was a failure at everything. I had terrible self esteem. I slept all day, I was haunted by memories and feelings of inadequacy and I would spend my nights taking my clothes off for strangers, being told by some that I was the most beautiful woman on the planet while others flung quarters at me, commented on my fat thighs and called me a whore.

I went out a lot. Got some tattoos. Pierced my face. Slept around. Probably drank too much.

I was deeply, deeply unhappy.

It was ...not the best version of me.

I didn't have much, but I had music. Korn, Linkin Park, Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Cold, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Nine Inch Nails...I was angry and sad and fucked up and the music was angry and sad and fucked up and for me, that was home. I went to concert after concert. I went backstage. I became a metal version of Penny Lane, only dirtier. Sleazier. More naive? Didn't matter to me. We were all in it together. Some musicians and crew were less than kind. Some were beyond kind. I was the same. For me, it was family. I took the good with the bad. They sang and screamed what I felt, and I really needed to be around people who felt the way that I did. It felt...less lonely.

So I did meet Chester once, backstage at Ozzfest. My boyfriend at the time (we're still friends to this day) knew him and introduced me to "Chester."

I didn't recognize him - I had a few months to go before I *really* got into Linkin Park. He was talking about his throat being sore and me, being ever so helpful and not realizing who he was, told him it was probably the midwest and allergies and that he should drink some tea with honey and he would probably be just fine. He didn't look at me like I was crazy or "don't you know who I am" or be dismissive or any rock star type behavior. He was polite, said it was nice meeting you, and walked off after our conversation. Uneventful. Nice guy. Who was that?

Later, we were backstage for their show and I was like...oh. These guys are so good. Oh. That's the same dude. I'm an idiot. But really - what a nice guy. He didn't seem like a rock star at all.

And I really loved Linkin Park after that. They got it. There are only a few bands whose music still resonates with me today, all of these years later, and Linkin Park is one of them. So Chester feels like losing family.  In a way, it is losing family. And losing the same battle that I fight? It's scary. And the grief is compounded by the fact that some people just love to be mean and no matter how often I witness it, I always feel like I get sucker punched. Like -whoa. People are mean? Why? When did that happen? It's like I forget...

The internet is a front row seat to cruelty, so people have been predictably heartless and terrible and judgmental. It's ok to joke about people dying, as long as they're famous, right? It's ok to call them cowards for losing their battle, because it's not like they're here to defend themselves and anyway, you get sad and you didn't kill yourself, right?

And there are a couple of things to say about that. First - why? Would you walk up to someone in WalMart and ask to take their picture so you could publicly shame them online for the outfit they're wearing? Would you make jokes about the dead at their funeral, to the people who loved them? If you say terrible things about your neighbor online (and it's ok because you're not facebook friends anyway), would you say it to them in person? Be who you are, all of the time. Stand up for your words. And if your words are terrible, at least have the courage to say them out loud, in front of the people they are designed to hurt. Or, recognize that your words have power, that the internet reaches every corner of the earth and famous or not, absolutely everyone should be off limits when it comes to you being hurtful and cruel and indulging in shaming behavior. Use what you have to shine a light in the darkness. Don't increase the darkness. Don't make an already hard life worse.

And cowardice? No. No. Absolutely not. And no.

For me, childhood trauma and depression and anxiety is a bit like being afraid of needles. Only, imagine that the needles have really hurt you and also, the whole world is actually needles.


And so the whole world is needles and you have this awful history with needles, but every day you get up and you go out into a world that's all needles. You are grateful for a day where you're not triggered, where you don't cry, where you don't drink, you don't cut yourself, where you actually left your house, you did something productive, you are grateful that you made it through 24 hours in a world made of needles. But you're tired. And you try to focus on all of the great things that happened today and what will happen in the future, but goddamn it, you just wish that the needles weren't there. They're really, really difficult to navigate and you're really, really tired. And to make matters worse, your brain is all messed up and keeps telling you that 1.) the needles are bigger than they actually are and 2.) that things that aren't needles are actually needles. It's exhausting.

Someone who fought that battle everyday, who not only went into a world full of needles but talked about how hard it was and gave comfort to people who knew EXACTLY what he meant, but who also had legions of people who love to be cruel on the internet tell him how stupid his battles were and how the songs from his heart didn't matter because he sucks because hey! It's fun to be mean to people on the internet! - that person is not a coward. That is a person who did battle every single day, 100% of the time, publicly, and gave countless people hope in the process and won every single battle ...until he didn't.

And so the answer isn't to jump onto our high horse and talk about the cowardice of others while bragging about how well we manage our own pain. The answer isn't to make cruel jokes.

I don't know what the answer is... but I know what it isn't. And I KNOW we can be better. I know I can be better.

We can hold the hands of people walking through darkness. We can not add to that darkness. We can show people that in a world full of needles, there are safety measures. There is protection. And here is my hand. I believe that your battle is real. I will go with you. I will be with you.

Shine a light. Be that light. The world is very, very hard and we can all do better. Please let us do better. We need to be better.


Anonymous said...

I have never met you, but your words...your thoughts...they impact me greatly. Thank you for being brave...for sharing your stories, your life.

Anonymous said...

As a depressed person who frequently battles sadness and anger about this crazy world; I want to thank you for such a well written article/blog. The world is mean, it can be mean but also be the most beautiful and mean and beautiful all at once. Thank you for describing it so well.